Some 150 Jews live in Malta, making up under .o4 percent of the population. The tiny island nation has been a home to Jews since at least the 1st century CE, although some evidence suggests that Jews first arrived with Phoenician merchants as early as the 9th century BCE. But while Malta gave refuge to Jews in the 15th and 20th centuries, it has also been the site of much persecution, and from the 16th through the 18th centuries had the dubious distinction of being the only European country where large numbers of Jews were slaves. Gail Dubov writes:
Mdina, [a] walled city. . . was Malta’s medieval capital, when one-third of its population was Jewish. A sign [now] marks the old Jewish silk market on Carmel Street. In medieval times, Jews were responsible for supplying the oil in the street lamps, exempting them from guard duty. . . .
The Catacombs of St. Paul date back to Roman times. Recently reopened, they were early burial tombs of Christians and Jews, surprisingly well preserved. Carved menorahs can be seen etched in the limestone archways and tomb walls. One, a burial spot of a husband and wife who died 2,000 years ago, displays a menorah in the stone above them, proclaiming that a Jewish couple had been buried there. . . .
Jewish families arrived [in Malta] from Spain in the 15th century, fleeing the expulsion and Inquisition. But eventually many were forced to convert to Christianity. To this day, family names with Jewish origins like Michallef, Ellul, Hellul, and Azzopardi dominate the island. Napoleon arrived [in 1798] and seized the island, freeing Jewish slaves. It was the British who ruled from 1800, establishing English as an official language and [the modern-day capital of] Valletta as an important crossroads to the Middle and Far East. Jews from Gibraltar, England, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, North Africa, and other Mediterranean cities immigrated to Malta and established businesses.
[More recently, Malta], was the only European country to welcome Jews without visas during World War II.
Today, Dubov notes, the island “has a fine kosher restaurant.”
Read more on Moment: http://www.momentmag.com/malta-jewish-history/